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Old 02-12-2013, 1:25 PM
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Default Has Ham Radio become too easy?

I hope this thread doesn’t turn into a flame war, but this is something I’ve wanted to say for quite some time and would love some intelligent and mature feedback. One caveat to this post, this pertains to licensed Amateur Radio Operators and not users of other radio services or scanner listeners.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on radio forums such as this one, and have lately been shocked at how uneducated hams are when it comes to their own hobby. I won’t reference any particular posts by name, but there are quite frequently posts asking “Can I do this or that on the radio, does my license allow me to do this or that?” Sure, I’m not perfect and from time to time still ask for advice, and I haven’t picked up a license study manual in almost 20 years. I have no idea what is in the current pool of exam questions, but when I read some of these posts I can’t help but think, “Wasn’t that on your test?”

When I received my license, I had to study hard for it. There were two written tests (Technician Class) that were filled with rules, theories, and schematics. The rules of the radio were laid out pretty clear, and when I received my license I had a pretty good understanding of what I could and couldn’t do with my Amateur Radio license.

Don’t get me wrong, having an Elmer (more experienced ham that offers guidance) is an essential part of the hobby. I can’t tell you how many times I was appreciative when an older ham would give me guidance on how to be a better radio operator. So, I can say that I’m glad that new hams are asking these questions and seeking guidance instead of being uneducated, poor operators. To those new people in the hobby, I thank you for that. However, I find it hard to believe that someone who recently passed the license exam could be so unknowledgeable about the rules and responsibilities their license entails.

What do you think? Has it become too easy to become a ham, or is the service making a needed change to keep up with the times?
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Old 02-12-2013, 1:40 PM
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The question pools are published and the sample tests like the ones hosted by QRZ promotes memorization. This does get new blood in to the hobby but new-bees really need to hook up with a local ham club so they can get Elmered.

If the tests become to difficult, new blood won't be coming in and we will lose the hobby, a balance has to be struck.
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Old 02-12-2013, 1:41 PM
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Would it make any difference if the exams were any more difficult? People are just going cram the answers into short term memory, and promptly forget it all hours after taking the test.
Some will take the time to learn it and understand it and some will come with prior experience where they may be able to pass the test without once cracking a book but I think I know what recent threads you're talking about and I'm pretty sure that has more to do with how people studied rather than the material itself.
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Old 02-12-2013, 1:46 PM
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Honestly it is everywhere. I have professional trained and licensed individuals that ask the same questions about thier line of work. Some of these have 5+ years of schooling and have not a clue about their career field. My issue is that I am the one that nearly everyone at my employer asks "those" questions to becasue managment thinks im the fixer.
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Old 02-12-2013, 2:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KT4EB View Post
Iíve spent quite a bit of time on radio forums such as this one, and have lately been shocked at how uneducated hams are when it comes to their own hobby.
That quit shocking me about 30 years ago. Back before the internet you could observe them at meetings, hamfests, public service events or on the air asking questions or making technical statements or statements about FCC rules that clearly demonstrated that they didn't know crap. On the other hand you also have grade school kids that got licensed and actually learned the material.

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Originally Posted by n8zcc View Post
new-bees really need to hook up with a local ham club so they can get Elmered.
That only works if the local club has people with a clue. That isn't always the case. Sometimes it's just the blind leading the blind.
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Old 02-12-2013, 3:04 PM
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Well, as a recent person who just got his Ham technicians license, I was shocked at how easy it was to pass the test. I was also shocked to be able to find all the questions that might be asked and study them. I think this promotes studding for the test vs studying to understand the material.

I do understand that if you make it so hard, people won't get involved, so I do believe there is a fine line that needs to be walked with this. What is the ideal solution, I don't know. May it is requiring people who are interested in HAM to go sit in a class for a few weeks. This would put a challenge on local HAM clubs I would think, and this would also challenge those situations where there are no HAM clubs (back country of Alaska for example).

I don't think there is a perfect solution. I do know that when I sat for my technicians exam and passed it and then was given the general exam and almost passed that I had a strange feeling. I almost passed an exam for which I knew noting about. I would have really felt strange if I would have passed it and gotten my General license. I know some people would not think twice about that, but I would have felt sort of guilty that I have something, yet I don't know the rules or other workings of. The fact that I scored as well as I did I can only contribute to pure luck if you ask me. I'm a technical person and I have a degree and spent the past 25 years in computer science, so it may have exposed me to some of the concepts, but I know most of the general content I don't know much about.

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Old 02-12-2013, 3:08 PM
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The entry level license has always been easy, and it's never taken much knowledge to pass. It's not any worse now than it's ever been. It's just easier to observe because of the internet.
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Old 02-12-2013, 3:43 PM
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Would it harm the hobby if the test were harder? Not really. What's the point of have big number if most of those numbers either loose interest of drop out for whatever reason? Some can't pass a 'hard' test? I think the simplest solution to that is for those to study what it is they are being tested over. Makes sense to me, maybe not to others. Don't want to 'work' for something? Then why should it be given to you? Is that 'hard hearted'? No, it isn't.
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Old 02-12-2013, 3:43 PM
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Double post, sorry.
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Old 02-12-2013, 5:31 PM
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I'll give you an example of an actual post that appeared on a well-known, now-defunct, ham site a few years ago:
"I've just received my amateur license. Can anyone please tell me what frequencies I'm allowed to operate on?"
I swear that I am not making this up.
Yes, it's a bad situation, and I don't think it's getting any better.
Question is, "Realistically, what can be done about it?"

Last edited by W2NJS; 02-12-2013 at 5:34 PM.. Reason: Word edit...
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Old 02-12-2013, 8:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KT4EB View Post
What do you think? Has it become too easy to become a ham, or is the service making a needed change to keep up with the times?
There will always be the crotchety old people that will always tell you about how harder things were back in the day and how these young whipper snappers have it so easy today (LOL). I had to take the 5 WPM code test to get my general. 5 WPM is nothing compared to the 15,18 or 20 WPM that used to be required, but to me it was hard. I took the time to study and practice CW every day for over a month and a half. When I took and passed the CW portion of my test, I did it, I earned my General and to me it was an accomplishment. But to the old timers, I was a newbee that was given a license. I did what I had to do. Do I use CW? not really, I do have contacts in the log but it is not my cup of tea. I do see nowadays, people that take tech, general and extra all in one day. Some of them are extra's without a clue. I think that is wrong. Give the tech and general away, but they should have kept the CW for the Extra. Something to work for, rather than just give it away. Flame away.............
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Old 02-12-2013, 8:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zz0468 View Post
The entry level license has always been easy, and it's never taken much knowledge to pass. It's not any worse now than it's ever been. It's just easier to observe because of the internet.
I think you'll find the Novice License used to be the entry level ham license. It required traveling to an FCC office usually, to take the test which included both sending and receiving Morse Code at 5wpm. I think most folks would not consider that to be "easy".
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Old 02-12-2013, 9:37 PM
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'Easy' is relative. Compared to the other license classes at the time, the Novice was easy. If there were still a Novice class and it was the same as it used to be, then it would be more difficult than the other classes now. Not because of the information you had to know but because of the code requirement. An amateur radio license isn't a 'give away', but it certainly doesn't require a huge amount of work to get one. If you aren't willing to put out the required work then why should you be given one? Do you think the same should be done with a drivers license, just give it away? I don't. Nor any other license of whatever kind.
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And you didn't have to go to the FCC to take a Novice Class license test, any General class licensee could give it. I figure that's where the VE system idea came from. But that's just a guess.
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Old 02-12-2013, 9:39 PM
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Difficult to balance attracting new hams and maintaining an acceptable degree of competence in this age of instant gratification.
I really would like to see the question banks done away with. A list of expected competencies and no access to the actual questions would promote people actually learning the subject matter rather than the licensing exercise being a short term memory test.
When I took my basic (equivalent to U.S. novice) I was required to do 10 wpm code, write a rules and regs test, write a technical test involving lots of electrical problems and applying the proper formulas and draw block diagrams of an AM transmitter, and FM receiver and a DF. The Advanced (equivilent to Extra) license requirements were more difficult, requiring 20 WPM code and drawing circuit diagrams and assigning values to the components. There is no question that it has become very much easier. To much so? I think so. I don't want it to revert to what I went through but I would very much like to see the process require some actual learning.
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Old 02-12-2013, 9:43 PM
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CRO',
I agree.
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Old 02-12-2013, 10:34 PM
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Quote:
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I think you'll find the Novice License used to be the entry level ham license. It required traveling to an FCC office usually, to take the test which included both sending and receiving Morse Code at 5wpm. I think most folks would not consider that to be "easy".
This is partially incorrect.

The Novice license was the entry level license. It was a simple 20 question test, and a 5wpm code test. It was administered by a volunteer ham of General class or higher, never at an FCC field office.

Even before the VEC program, Novice, Technician, and Conditional licenses applicants were tested by volunteer hams outside of FCC field offices.
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Old 02-12-2013, 11:03 PM
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Perhaps everyone should test every 10 years at the level of the license they hold. Failure to pass will result in adjustment of license, based on correct answers, or even revocation. Of course this means an entirely new test, but hey, why not?

What is the point of testing in the first place and having different operating privileges? If your current knowledge is only as good as Technician, should you have the privilege to operate as General, or Extra?

Slippery slope people. Enjoy the ride.
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Old 02-12-2013, 11:03 PM
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It was possible to get your Novice or Tech license at an FCC office, but only if you passed enough for that class license while taking your General test there. The code test was given at 13 (or 20 for the Extra) WPM and success was defined as so many correct characters in a row. If you got enough characters in a row that was required for element 1A (5 WPM) you were given credit as passing that element even if you didn't get enough to pass element 1B (13 WPM).

The written exam was also taken in parts. A General class written test included element 2 (the Novice test) and element 3 (the Tech & General class test). You were given credit for the parts you passed so you could've passed element 2, but failed element 3 and, assuming you had credit for element 1A above, you could've been given your Novice license based on that testing session at an FCC office.

One advantage of having your tests done at an FCC office was that the tests were final. If you they said you passed, you passed and there was no further questions about the issue. If you were tested by a fellow ham, your tests could be questioned by the FCC and a retest could've been requested if there were any questions about how your test was handled. If you didn't retest or failed the retest your license was revoked. This rule was there to prevent folks from helping a friend get their license by providing answers or other means (think open book testing).

Last edited by n5ims; 02-12-2013 at 11:14 PM..
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Old 02-12-2013, 11:38 PM
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Quote:
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Perhaps everyone should test every 10 years at the level of the license they hold. Failure to pass will result in adjustment of license, based on correct answers, or even revocation.
Any benefit would be hard to measure, but the cost of implementing it would be easy to figure out. It's not likely to ever come about because it's not an important enough issue, and it's not really solving any particular existing problem. Why penalize an 80 year old extra who happened to be bright enough to develop some key piece of radar technology in the 50's, because he's too old to remember (or learn?) exactly how DDS synthesizers work?
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Old 02-13-2013, 12:01 AM
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Well actually I have done both test(s) sites. At 201 Varick St. in NY City at the FCC offices and through a VE program. I see little difference between the two places I took them other than parking being a hassle in the big city. The FCC today simply could not afford to do this anymore. The FCC does not have the resources in this era of budget cuts.
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